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How to bring juniors and seniors together in PR despite WFH

Some believe there is a disconnect in PR right now, as new entrants want to work in offices where they can get help from their peers and seniors in person, whilst more senior people are used to working at home and want to stay there. We asked senior PRs how they tackle this problem.

The right technology helps

Mark Stuart, associate director at communications consultancy Battenhall: "Like most things in life, a healthy balance is important. Our total flexible working policy allows our team to work from wherever, whenever, in a way that suits them best.

We also believe technology can bring people together in new ways. We have teams active in the metaverse, in places like Meta's Horizon apps as well as other augmented and virtual environments. It’s this kind of innovation that helps us feel like we’re together when we’re apart - and which we see as increasingly important in the new hybrid world of work."

Amy Flynn, senior public relations executive at agency Compete PR: “I joined Compete PR straight off the back of my Masters and have been entirely remote throughout. Seeing as this is my first job in the industry I’ve not had an issue with the support from my peers as modern technology and ways of working have mean we perhaps communicate more throughout the day than if we were in an office space.”

Gemma Harris, MD of agency Lineup Media: It’s a massive problem in PR where it is critical for entry level jobseekers to gain hands-on experience with seniors in the office and they are unable to do so right now. Zoom meetings don’t cut it in media relations where you need to learn from those around you. However, what we have seen working very well for new entrants are digital online learning courses such as Event Crowd’s Event Management Diploma.”

Entice seniors into the office

Kat Taylor, account director at agency Frank PR: “At Frank, we’re back in full time and that goes for everyone across the agency, whether they’re a junior account exec or whether they’re a board member. I think it’s fair to say there was an initial adjustment shock going from WFH back into the office, but the rewards have been numerous. Faster and deeper account team relationships, a culture of creativity in brainstorms we could never quite get on Zoom, better agency culture as a wider group and it also means that we’re able to empower and train Frankers as they progress with their careers in ways that feel more natural than a video chat. Being in the office allows us to create fun surprises too - whether it’s Irish dancing on St Patrick’s Day or Pancake Day breakfasts, these are experiences that are always better in person!”

Shannon Serrao, associate director at PR agency Stir: “Our culture is a huge part of what people love about working at and with Stir, so being back in the office has been welcomed across all levels. It is absolutely important for the senior team to come into the office (we’re in three days a week). A big part of that is so new starters can settle in and get to know everyone, but also so that everyone can continue to learn from one another and feel supported. There’s nothing like the collaboration and energy you feel when everyone is together and a lot of learning comes from soaking up what is happening around you. There should of course be flexibility, however everyone knowing they have access to the senior team in person, at least a couple of days a week, is indeed important to us.”

Get everyone in at the same time

Nick Braund, founder of startup agency for startups Words + Pixels: “Although most of us enjoy a flexible working life now, at Words + Pixels we all work the same three days each week in the office. It’s not always easy and sometimes is less focused than we want, but the benefits massively outweigh the commute. Our retention has gone up, employee happiness score has risen and we’re all enjoying being in.

“As the media landscape evolves and journalists move around so frequently, being together at the same time offers just as much value for the senior team, as for those new to the industry.”

You need some give and take

Gavin Loader, owner and MD of agency Truss PR: “Agencies need to make a profit by growing and retaining their clients and recruiting and retaining the best people. If you lose focus on people, the model falls over.

“I ran a remote agency for over a decade, and we managed to make it work with online learning sessions, guest speakers (online, obviously) weekly Zoom quizzes and a host of other online activities. But, I also often had to drive places to meet people to solve problems. We’d meet to iron out the creases. Less experienced colleagues also need to feel the culture and values too, and that’s difficult online.

“More senior people will need to accept that once in a while face-to-face needs to happen, but new entrants to the market need to accept the days of spontaneously tapping someone on the shoulder for help is probably over.“

Use mentorship programmes

Maciej Kubiak, head of people at online passport tool PhotoAiD: “I’ve discussed this issue with some PR juniors and beginner journalists, and as far as I understand, it’s not about meeting in the office. The point is that young professionals want mentorship.

“The PR profession is one where work experience is significant. No matter how many books and articles you read, they cannot replace the value of actual first-hand insights. So new entrants expect that they will learn from experts in the new workplace, and they are disappointed to only be meeting senior professionals during team video calls. I think that mentorship programmes could be a solution. Having regular one-on-one video meetings between older and younger employees would meet the needs of new employees without forcing seniors to commute.”

Let people work where they want!

Janet Hare, client director at agency Source PR: ”I think it’s always going to be the way that different ways of working suit different people and has always been so. We are individuals after all! Some people like to write lists on Asana, and some like to write them on paper still. Both work because they are chosen by the person who’s created them that way.

“So, I believe people should be provided with the choice to work in an environment that suits them and their needs and make the most of the collaboration tools available, whether that be face-to-face meetings or video calls or text chats. No one should be ‘made’ to work in a place that isn’t suited to them as it’s never going to result in them producing their best work. Luckily here we have the flexibility to be at home or in the office, but do get together once or twice a week as we generally agree that this is the ideal scenario for our sanity!”

Richard Cook, managing director of agency Champion Communications: “We are running a hybrid and fully flexible work from anywhere policy whilst making being in the office rewarding and appealing to anyone who wants to come in. Today we had breakfast for everyone. There is an ongoing wellness programme that includes health and fitness classes and sessions on handling stress and hybrid working. We also offer regular talks from authors, journalists and industry leaders designed to draw colleagues together.

“When people have intense workloads, they often choose to work from home, whereas lighter days are spent in the office. On average, people work three days in the office, which allows junior staff members to learn from and connect with more established Champions.”

As recruitment is such an issue in PR, it is important to try and keep everyone happy at all levels This means being extremely flexible and making the office environment as tempting as it possibly can be.

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